I recently had a student who designed a new small group system for her church and called them War Ship Small Groups.

And she was uniformly eaten by a couple of students for using battle language … I guess because that kind of language is pointedly missing from the Bible (I don’t know which Bible’s that language is missing from, because both the Hebrew and Christian sides of the scriptures I read have that kind of language from Genesis through Revelation and pretty much everywhere in between … I even find the Gentle Good Shepherd Jesus reminding his disciples that he wasn’t there to bring peace, but a sword that would divide families).

In any event, I had to wade in to try and quell the mounting opposition to her rather brilliant idea. Below is my response …

A word about War Ship … as we can see from the response, the church is sensitive to “military” language. In fact, it’s so sensitive that it removed almost all of that language from our hymnal and liturgies. We’ve taken the Jesus with a sword and replaced the sword with a box of Kleenex. We’ve taken Onward Christian Soldiers and replaced it with Jesus, You’re So Beautiful. And in so doing, we have alienated the vast majority of men in the US, one of the fastest fleeing demographics in the church. When I went to seminary, I was taught to not use sports metaphors, to not use battle metaphors, to not use blood language, and to not use masculine pronouns to refer to the Divine. Never mind that this makes at least 50 percent of the Bible totally irrelevant and denigrates thousands of years of tradition. Jesus did not shy away from either beauty metaphors or from military metaphors – it wasn’t either–or, it was both–and. But the Mainline church has largely turned its back on both–and. Indeed, the Mainline church has so feminized the faith that many, if not most, men are uncomfortable with Christianity and the church as we present it. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that our sanctuaries should be bedecked with the American flag (or any flag, for that matter) and that our opening “hymn” should be God Bless America. But I am suggesting that we’ve gone so far to accommodate “political correctness” that we have become not only irrelevant to many men, but distasteful. Yes, masculinity imagery can go too far – and often has – but so can – and has – the alternative. If we don’t find a balance, we will continue to become a church with fewer men until the church effectively becomes a sorority. 

Willow Creek was once the largest church in the US … it was the first real Seeker Focused church that intentionally chose to prioritize reaching the unchurched and irreligious over church membership. They had a specific target audience … they targeted middle aged men with families. They made sure that everything, including the driveway route to the parking lot, appealed to men (the drive wends its way around the bass pond which doubles as the outdoor baptistry) … but they were equally careful to balance that against the needs and desires of women and children. However, they realized that if you “get the mom” you get the kids, but if you “get the dad” you get the whole family. They intentionally chose to reach the whole family. 

Was everyone welcome at WC? Yes, and to their credit, they did whatever they could to try and be welcoming to all comers. However, they were unapologetic about targeting their target audience. And that’s why they were so very successful in turning the faithless into the faithful, the lost into the found, the unredeemed into baptized followers of Jesus Christ. 

You will never be able to appease everyone. Stop trying. It’s not possible. SOMEONE will be offended by the choices you make … get over it because you can’t eliminate it. Indeed, that’s why you’re studying leadership because it takes a leader to make these kinds of VERY DIFFICULT CHOICES. So, choose your target audience and go after them with full gusto … be sensitive and welcoming to all, but unapologetic about reaching your target. Jesus ONLY targeted the Jews … and he was unapologetic about it. But he welcomed all, even though not all were receptive. It was the church outside of Jerusalem that finally targeted non-Jews. There are many churches … no one church can be everything for everyone – so don’t try. 

BTW, this is the key reason that, when my wife was pastor, she had a male staff member preach at least monthly and often shared her sermon texts with her male staff to ensure she was relevant to men too. She knew that by virtue of her gender she reflected a feminine side of the faith, so she bent over backwards to accommodate and sometimes accentuate the masculine. Not either–or. Always both–and.